A Star is Born
Romana Kryzanowska was born on June 30, 1923 at her grandmother’s home, also known as the Pinehurst Hospital in Farmington, Michigan. Her birth occurred at 7:30 a.m. with Melvina at Sari’s side, attending as midwife. Home births were common, due in part to the prevailing belief that a woman would be more comfortable at home, surrounded by her family. Hospitals were often difficult to get to and did not promise better care.
Romana was born into an era of prosperity and industrial growth. Automobiles, telephones, and radios were easily available for purchase. Factory workers earned enough money to buy the products they made. Entertainment meant going out to the movies or listening to jazz; boxing and baseball vied for the most popular sport. The only major damper on the festivities was Prohibition which legally prevented the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcohol.
Raising Romana would prove to be a family affair. Her parents, Sari and Roman were busy with their careers and social lives. They maintained an apartment and studio space at 1450 E. Jefferson Blvd in Detroit while working, and they visited family in Farmington as often as possible. Soon grandmother Melvina and aunt Mary Margaret were taking care of Romana on a full-time basis.
Melvina’s home was meticulously cleaned and cared for. She made fresh bread or rolls daily, kept a garden for fresh produce, and raised chickens that she slaughtered for dinners. These dinners became legendary. She typically served homemade soup, fried chicken, rolls, two or three vegetable dishes, salad, dessert, and iced tea. With her attention to detail, and her ability to manage and serve such meals and entertain guests, Melvina must have been an early role model for the very young Romana.
Aunt Mary Margaret was just sixteen-years-old when Romana was born. She enjoyed working around the home and family farm and taking care of Romana. Two years later in 1925, Mary Margaret graduated from Farmington High School. She remained at home, helping her mother manage the farm and tending to Romana.
The ten-room home allowed for plenty of indoor space to enjoy on rainy days. Modern amenities of electric lighting and indoor plumbing ensured the comfort of family and guests. Romana’s outdoor playground included a large beautiful lawn and a backyard filled with fruit trees to climb, chicken coops to explore, and farm animals to chase. As a toddler Romana also enjoyed playing with her cousins, Ruth and Naomi, uncle Chester’s daughters. Years later Ruth recalled that she enjoyed bath time with Naomi and Romana given by Melvina. Ruth said she was always jealous of Romana’s beautiful curls.
Melvina was always looking for investments and business opportunities. In 1925 she decided to build a gas station on her property in Farmington. She ran the station with the help of Romana’s aunt Pauline and her husband at the time, Steve Coliopoulos. Trouble with the gas station began in early 1927 when the station was raided by police under the suspicion of selling liquor. The raiding police officer found one pint of moonshine whiskey. This was against the laws of Prohibition.
The gas station was raided again in July 1927, and Pauline and her husband were arrested as bootleggers. This time, the police found “a large quantity of liquor…in and around the station. Pauline was sentenced to a term of five to twelve months, to be served at the Detroit House of Corrections. This was the first time in many years that someone from Oakland County was sent to jail for this violation. Pauline entered the Detroit House of Corrections on September 22, 1927, and was released less than three months later on December 15, 1927. She gained thirty-five pounds while in jail.
The gas station was operated under a partnership between Melvina and Federal Petroleum Company of Illinois. More problems arose surrounding the gas station when Melvina decided to offer products other than those provided by the Federal Petroleum Company. She had originally agreed to sell only Federal’s products. When she refused requests by Federal to stop offering other products, the company filed a lawsuit against her. She was not the first family member to deal with such legal problems nor would she be the last! The Circuit Court in Pontiac, Michigan, set aside the exclusivity agreement as “unjust and inequitable” and ruled in Melvina’s favor. She was released from the obligation of doing business with them. However, she was ordered to pay Federal two-thousand-five-hundred dollars, the amount that it had originally invested in the gas station. It is unclear how Melvina lost ownership of the gas station, as by 1930 there was a new owner. Maurice Graham, a Farmington native, renamed the business Graham’s Service Station.
Pauline moved on from her association with her mother’s gas station. Once out of prison, Pauline drove a cab in Detroit. When she wasn’t in trouble with the law, trouble was following her. One evening her cab was stolen from her while she was working in Detroit. She reportedly drove a fare to his destination at the corner of Greeley Avenue and Modern Street, when he tried to pull her out of the cab to steal the car. Pauline fought with him for a few minutes and then ran to a nearby house to get help. As the robber sped off, the occupant of the house fired a shotgun at the car. The car was later recovered, with bullet holes, and the robber arrested on charges of armed robbery.
Tired of driving a cab, Pauline turned her attention to aviation. She had wanted to learn to fly ever since she had flown her brothers’ plane a few years earlier. She took lessons from the Eaglerock School located at the John R. Airport just north of Detroit. This airport was newly established and consisted of two sod runways. Her teacher was chief pilot Al Conklin, who said Pauline was “…an exceptional student, that from the first day she swung her own prop and worked on the engines. She soloed in six hours and set a record for women at the John. R. port.” Pauline responded that she believed “Women should take to the air. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do all that men do in aviation. I feel there is a wonderful future in it for us.”
Somehow, Pauline convinced Melvina to buy her an airplane. Pauline, now known as Polly, was fond of flying over her mothers’ home. On at least one occasion, she landed in a nearby field owned by John Lathrup, and then successfully took off from the same bumpy field. Polly fully embraced her career in aviation, as she took mechanics classes, flying lessons, and eventually held a federal certificate (license) to fly. She went on to become a barnstormer, performing flying stunts around the country. She claimed to have been a roommate of Amelia Earhart during these barnstorming years. Later Polly claimed to have met Charles Lindbergh while she was working as a “test hopper” at Willow Run Airport in Detroit.